Conspiracy Theories

I’m tired of the universe conspiring against me. I don’t mean the “you’re born so you can learn a few things, grow old and die” bit: that whole plan doesn’t bother me. I get it. In theory. Theory and reality are two different things, as you know. Probably, the minute I find out I’m dying, I’ll exclaim, “WHAT?”

But that’s not the conspiracy I’m tired of. I’m tired of EVERYTHING HAPPENING AT ONCE!

Sorry to yell like that. I’m back under control now.

Let me explain. I’m rambling along the unremarkable road of my retirement, doing a little of this, a little of that. I’ve knocked the weather-beaten boards of my days into a serviceable routine: writing in the morning, house and yard afternoon, coffee dates, gym three times a week. But after four years, I’m just a trifle restless. Not to mention, running low on the funds needed to gambol about the world.

So in May, a former colleague asks if I’d like to teach one class in the fall. One class! A teacher’s dream, the dream all those teacher movies pretend is reality: one class. Twenty-five or thirty kids instead of 170. I peer down the unremarkable road of my retirement, where August lies in distant, empty haze. Nothing. It’s like the surface of the moon down there. I sign up.

An infectious disease doctor explained this to me once. Nasty germs sneak into your body all kinds of ways—impossible to stop them—and head straight for whatever part of you is compromised. “Ah-ha!” says one virus to another, “check it out, the lungs are weak, dude. Let’s crash there and start a cozy colony of bronchitis.”

Activity is like that too. You take a barren landscape section of your life and drop a modest activity into it, like, say, teaching one class. Just a pebble in the pond. You do it on tiptoe, don’t tell anyone, keep your head down.

Doesn’t matter.

The universe’s activity monster, which had been sound asleep, raises its slimy reptilian head. August? Starting a class? All right, then, let’s host an all-day seminar at the house the week before, have a reunion reading of Denver Crossroads poets the night after meeting all twenty-seven parents of your new students, throw in a dental emergency which takes three appointments to fix, have an essay on deadline for publication come back with 42 proposed edits and a note asking, “can you have this Tuesday?” (Here’s another problem with the internet: editors can send work Sunday afternoon and want it back Tuesday.)

But we’re not done: develop a leak in the basement, find a plumber, spend a lot of money, get appointed to a neighborhood committee and sign a contract to translate a 300-page book, all in August, right as I start teaching.

The translation job should be good news and it is. Since retirement I’ve been working at becoming a translator. But this translation job begins—of course—the last week of August. Oh, and when does my one sweet class end? December 19. The translation job is due December 5.

Maybe instead of the biological infection theory, it’s some insidious law of physics. Activity attracts more activity, commitments made in an empty field find other commitments snagging their legs like burrs, hovering overhead like stage parents, jumping up and down like four-year-olds, crying, “Me too! Me too!”

With no effort on my part, I go from not-enough to too-much, zero to eighty in thirty seconds, mixing metaphors like crazy. When I wasn’t so busy, I ignored dust bunnies and weeding for weeks without it bothering me a bit. Now I desperately want to attack those tasks this minute, the way I am only desperate to do things when I can’t do them. How could I? I need to knock out four pages of translation and plan tomorrow’s class.

This always happens to me. I know, because I’ve looked at years of old journals—remind me to burn those things—I used to write in daily. It’s there in black and white: everything happens at once.


Posted in Humor | 6 Comments

One for the Fridge


The fridge was the bulletin board of the American home. From invitations and appointments to the kids’ latest drawings and photos, we put everything there, held with magnets. Mind you, fridges were made of something magnetic then. And photos were actual hard copies. For me, fridge exhibit space and sticky notes came together serendipitously. Someone said something I loved, so I scribbled it onto a sticky and slapped it on the fridge. Eventually there were a dozen or more and people went to the kitchen to read them as soon as they arrived. Friends sometimes made pithy remarks and stared at me expectantly. Rules had to be established. You couldn’t be trying to get on the fridge.

Time passed. The fridge took on a dusty feathered look. I took the stickies down, typed them up. Then I started teaching and began collecting the student quotes that were published here in 2013. (Look them up.) Collecting “fridgeables” came to an end. Some of these are decades old. Some are by friends no longer living and preserving them is bittersweet. Some have multiple quotes, not because everything they say is dazzling, but because I see—or saw them often, or when paper and pen were handy. I submit these as proof that friends and family enrich our lives with laughter and insight.

There are so many interesting things in life, you can hardly get on with it. —Dixon Staples

Memories are not recordings but defenses. —Bob Topp

Speaking of cow words used to describe human behavior in French: The word “bovine” isn’t used nearly enough in English. —Marilyn Auer

On watching the splintering stick her two-year-old son was playing with: That’s the problem with natural matter: it breaks down. —Snow Ford

I’m tired of this Walmart mentality. —Phil Normand

There’s so much of my life that I wasn’t present for. —Sid Werntz

Speculating on why he’s two weeks behind schedule: Sometimes time isn’t as long as I think it’s going to be. —Mark Jameson

Snow Ford, talking about what she’s learned from her marriage: You can only control yourself.

Sable Rall, hearing the above quote: And sometimes, not even that.

I’m just another Mexican, crying in the wilderness. —Carlos Martinez

If this job gets to me, I’ll quit. My needs aren’t that elaborate. —Toni Potter

On being asked to try a new restaurant: I never go any place I haven’t already been. —Brad Mudge

Discussing his failure to cook while his wife was away: I used to get disgusted by guys like me. —Danny Salazar

I’d rather have a working man than a cooking man. —Cindi Threet

If you know how to make oatmeal cookies, I’ll follow you home. —John Jones

Hablo porque tengo boca. I talk because I have a mouth. —Carlos May-Gamboa

On being asked to meet for a movie on the spur of the moment: We’re too old to be spontaneous. —Jeffrey Ruben-Dorsky

On the rising cost of visiting Prague: I hate it when countries come out of the third world. —Donna Altieri

Anything that eats can be trained. —Rose Reasoner

You can’t raise birds unless you’re a bird yourself. —Minor Meany

On cats: You can have their reproductive capacity fixed, but not their attitudes. —Bob Jaeger

If you want to get the show done, rent the hall. —Angel Vigil

The world is full of people who go faster than I do. —Richard Slavich

Sincerity is not a measure of art. —Phil Normand

In reference to the average American work week: The hunter-gatherers had it better than us. —Len Surprenant

It’s clear we are all fools. —Dixon Staples

I like people who’ve had complex lives: you have to have a few bumps to be interesting. —Toni Potter

On being asked to define mensch: Mensch! Nobody’s a mensch; most people are schmucks. —Alice Rybak

The thing about cell phones is you never have to be where you are. —Marilyn Auer

On being told that his intelligence restored an adult’s faith in the younger generation: Alas, I’m not representative of my generation. —Shane Ford

I’m not much of a creator, but I’m a great continuer. —Bill Gibson

On spending an hour programming his ipad to operate the TV: It’s a good thing I don’t have anything else serious to do besides trying to keep up with the fucking twenty-first century. —Phil Normand

A genuine liberal arts education is not in the best interests of the republic. —Rick VanDeWeghe

The only youth-related issue Americans care about is abortion: we don’t like live children at all. —Toni Potter

I wouldn’t go to church either if I weren’t the minister of one. —Rev. Karl Kopp

I don’t have any particular need to deal with reality. —Carlos Martinez

We haven’t planned our lives because we’ve been innately suspicious of the idea that there’s anywhere to get to. —Phil Normand

On why she spends so much of her retirement in volunteer work: The worst thing I can do is nothing. —Cat Haskins


Posted in Humor | 5 Comments

Morning Walks, Days of Summer

From the playing fields of Manuel High School the view was screened to a faint suggestion of mountains for days in July. I looked it up. “Dateline Denver: haze caused by fires out west.” The headline exasperated me: I thought I was out west.

Looking through my digital Denver Post, I found a page four article about fires in the State of Washington. Like all positions, what’s “out west” is a matter of perspective. I think of Washington as forever raining, but not this summer. Four hundred square miles of land, over 100 homes, had been incinerated in dry, windy conditions, the worst ever recorded there. We’ve had many such shattered records lately.

Here in Denver’s Whittier neighborhood, I try to walk before it gets hot, with young couples pushing strollers, jogging with their dogs. It’s Wednesday morning, after eight. I guess no one goes to work early anymore. These young people are mysterious to me. I don’t know how they make a living, what impels them to pay so much for old houses realtors couldn’t give away twenty years ago.

I pass a couple, her pregnant belly straining tautly against her t-shirt, his tattoos elaborating his arms, their boxer beside them. Thirty years ago, this neighborhood was peppered with black and Latino children. Then for a long time, there were few children. Now we’ll have a bumper crop again, tow-haired babies this time. Such are the changes you see if you stay in one place long enough.

Coming up behind a blond boy of five or six, sauntering slowly with his slow spaniel, I call hello, not to scare him. “What a sweet puppy,” I say. “She’s not a puppy,” he corrects earnestly. “She’s old, but,” and I hear his parents explaining, “she’s very active for an old dog.”

This will be his first death, I think, moving on. When the cat I had at his age died, I was thirteen, sobbed and sobbed. Even now, the memory of finding my cat stretched out under the porch, cold, is vivid in my mind. And yet, that vision’s sadness has worn to a wafer, its recollection now a gateway to smiling: that cat woke me to feed him in the morning, purring loudly against my cheek. And if I didn’t stir soon enough, I’d get a gentle bite on the nose. Pets are often the first to teach us about death, about loss. However it comes to us, it’s a knowledge we need to acquire.

Crossing Manual’s parking lot late in July, I was startled to see the cheerleaders on the football field. A dozen girls with their energetic young teacher—bless young teachers who take on these extra tasks!—worked through stretches, squats, high kicks. If the cheerleaders have begun their early morning practice, football players can’t be far behind, and it must be only weeks until…

A moment of panic tightened my gut, the attack I experienced for the start of every school year, the panic teachers suffer. This is my fifth year retired, but I’ve agreed to teach a class this fall. That’s all it took for the feeling to return, the feeling that summer’s slipping away, life is slipping away. I started writing this in July and now it’s August. August!

For a week of July mornings, the Front Range was made dim by the residue of forests, ashy bits of bedrooms. Generated by trees, family photos, melted laptops, a wisp of favorite sweater, that smoke touched us here. Losses we’ll never to able to name waft through our air. Change we cannot control washes around us like a flood, some of it causing us to clap happily, some of it dismaying.

On this August morning walk, a representative of the new life passed me, a grinning young father with a baby strapped to his chest and two rescue greyhounds on leash. I observed that he had his hands full.

“Yes,” he replied proudly. “I do.”

The day was beginning to heat up, and heading home, I saw a bright yellow and black swallowtail butterfly flitting through red hollyhocks.

Posted in Neighborhood | 6 Comments

These children are ours

I can’t do much about the legion dire situations in the world. I’m often not sure what the right thing to do would be. My husband says the best idea is to assume an Islamic attitude when disasters strike, say, “God is great,” and keep on. But these children at the border are on my doorstep, brought here in large part because of our own doing. And some Americans are already taking right actions about it.

Recent history: We blocked drug trade from Columbia, which moved it to primarily Mexican drug cartels, who, while giving Mexico plenty of grief, have also set up shop in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. These countries have weak governments and much poverty, ideal breeding grounds for drug dealers. What we do in the world has unintended consequences. You’d think we’d know that by now.

Need I mention the U.S. market is the main client drug cartels exist to supply? Or that our role in destabilizing those countries governments has been suspect for decades? Today Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have some of the highest murder and poverty rates in the world. Drug people come into schools and tell 10-year-old children, “you work for us or you die, you take these drugs or you die, you deliver these drugs or we kill your sister.”

The law George W. Bush signed, the Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, says any child from a country not adjacent to the United States—that is, not Mexico or Canada—who appears at the border unaccompanied must be given an immigration hearing. It was a well-intended law, aimed at stopping sex trafficking. But life has gone from bad to worse in Central America since then. Down there, rumor has it that the law means if you’re a minor and get across the border they can’t send you back. You’ll be safe. You’ll have a chance to have a life. Two things you can’t have in the place where you were born.

These children are refugees, fleeing extreme violence and poverty. Over a third are hoping to reunite with family members who came here before them. To get this far, they’ve spent every cent they had or borrowed, endured beatings, attacks, lack of food and water, the risk of enslavement and death. All to reach a place where there might be hope. To be met by people screaming at them.

As Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick reminded us recently, in 1939, to our everlasting shame, we turned away a ship with 1,000 Jews on board, many women and children. It is estimated that over half the people on that ship died in the Holocaust. I will not be party to the repetition of such an act. Sending these children back is sending them into the hands of drug lords.

Our pathetic politicians are making political footballs of juveniles. But grassroots America has risen to the occasion as decent Americans always do. They make me proud. They’re doing the right thing.

I’m giving what I can to these groups. I hope you will too. I hope you’ll pass this on. Here are some of the organizations helping. Add others if you know more. Pass it on.

Texas Young Democrats: they have a basic necessities wish list on Amazon. Their website has information:

Catholic Charities of Central Texas is currently seeking donations to help with immigration legal services and family support service for these children. See the website for more information:

Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) has an up-to-date website focused on this border crisis with the latest news about it and solicits cash donations:

Posted in Education | 2 Comments